Martin Van Buren HS back on track to success
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Mar 28, 2018 | 3588 views | 0 0 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Traveling past Martin Van Buren High School, you may not have noticed the analog clock on the building’s facade. For decades, it didn’t matter whether it was noticeable or not because the time was always wrong.

But that changed when Sam Sochet became the new principal at the Queens Village high school. Now in his sixth year, he has been a leader of change in a school that hasn’t always had the best of reputations.

Under his guidance, the school has implemented a series of improvements from career-driven programs down to smaller details like the clock.

“I asked a friend of mine, who has lived in Queens Village for 32 years, if she ever remembered that clock working, and she said it didn’t work the entire time she lived here,” said Councilman Barry Grodenchik.

“For Mr. Sochet, his reasoning to get the clock fixed was that it was a terrible message for the young people who attend the school, that we don’t care enough to fix the clock,” Grodenchik added. “But with his six years, he has done so much more than fix a clock.”

The school has improved its New York State Regents completion rates, as well as raised their graduation rate from 45 to 68 percent. Sochet promised that the graduation rate will rise to more than 70 percent after this upcoming graduation.

Senior Nile Robinson didn’t have a Model UN group for his first two years at Martin Van Buren High School.

“There wasn’t really any political science classes at first, but now our assistant principal is leading a Model UN class, and we’ve won awards for it,” Robinson said. “I’m really grateful for that program.”

“From the time I was a freshman until now, there are so many new opportunities,” said senior Venese Edwards. “I’d be so happy if my cousins wanted to come to this school because there are just so much more possibilities now.”

She said there are so many programs a student could be busy from Monday morning until Saturday night. Over the summer, the school offers an internship and there are classes through NYU and Columbia on Saturdays.

“If you said you were bored going to this school, you’d be a liar,” Edwards added. “They are honestly out there handing us opportunities. If we don’t grab it, we’re not going to get it.”

Students can now study in particular programs such as health or law and engineering, and classes like psychology and sociology were also introduced with help from Sochet and other staff members.

In fact, Sochet is a former AP psychology teacher at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Jamaica.

The school currently has 10 AP classes and is looking to add two more in addition to implementing three Syracuse University classes.

Additionally, the school reached benchmarks for school safety, college readiness and other achievements in 2017. Even the school’s basketball team won their first homecoming game in many years. Students say it’s all coming together.

“In order for a school to accomplish what we have accomplished, it’s because of teachers, students, staff and community support,” said Sochet.

By the end of this school year, Martin Van Buren High School will no longer be on the receivership list for the first time in several years.

The school is also one of the reasons why the United Federation of Teachers hates closing schools, according to their Queens Political Action coordinator Dermot Smyth.

“If you focus on schools in the right way and give the staff and the administration the support that they need, all the schools that have a little bit of difficulty can turn around and have a success story like this,” Smyth said.

“School District 26 is one of the city’s highest achieving school districts with dedicated teachers, some of the most involved parents in New York City, and thousands of promising students in our district,” said Assemblyman David Weprin. “I’d like to see even more students choose Martin Van Buren High School as their top choice when they fill out their high school applications.”

Assemblyman Clyde Vanel added that it takes a community to uphold an institution as important as a school.

“Our young people deserve the best institutions that they can get and we have to prepare them for the future,” Vanel said. “This school is a great example of us getting together and investing in our next generations.”

More improvements are being made to school. When Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the school last November for a town hall, he promised that air conditioners would be installed in each classroom.

“We are not in the middle of New York City, and our kids have to get on buses to go to trains to go to schools that offer specialized programs,” Grodenchik said. “They don’t have to do that anymore.”

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